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Home: Highest Mountains in Japan: Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山)

Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山)
elev. 3067m
Japan's 14th Highest Mountain

Note: Mt. Ontake-san is a very dangerous active volcano and erupted without warning on Sat. Sept. 27, 2014, killing at least 56 hikers. More details on the eruption, including updates, are here.



Climbing Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山), elevation 3067m, the 14th highest mountain in Japan, was without question the most religious & spiritual hike I've ever taken in Japan. The climbing trail has little shrines, temples, and statues of religious deities pretty much along the entire course.

In fact, I even had the good fortune of meeting a couple of Buddhist mountain priests (yamabushi, 山伏) on the trail, a pic of which you can see in my Flickr album below. Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) is a famous peak for these priests as part of their religious and physical training.


Shrine along the Mt. Ontake-san climbing trail
Shrine along the Mt. Ontake-san climbing trail

Easy Hike !


And for being a "three-thousander" (peak over 3000m), it was one of the easiest of Japan's 25 highest mountains that I've ever climbed. On that day, I left Shinjuku Station in Tokyo at 7 am, started hiking at 12:30 pm, reached the summit of Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) @ 3:20 pm, and finished hiking at 7 pm at the Asahi-so minshuku in Nigorigo Onsen (濁河温泉) where I spent the night. That's right……it was a 6 1/2 hour day hike.

One reason for this was that the summit of Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山), elev. 3067m, which is also Japan’s 2nd highest volcano, is less than a 900m elevation gain from the Ta-no-hara (田の原) trailhead (elev. 2190m), and from there, an approximate 1300m elevation drop down to Nigorigo Onsen (濁河温泉) @ 1768m.




To my best recollection, this trailhead is one of the highest elevation trailheads among the 25 highest mountains in Japan. The only 2 higher ones that immediately come to mind are the Mt. Fuji Fifth Station (富士山五合目 ) trailhead (elev. 2305m, Kawaguchiko Trail) and Mt. Tateyama/Mt. Tsurugi-dake trailhead in Murodo (elev. 2433m).

The 5 Crater Lakes (5つの火口湖) of
Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山)


The weather wasn't all that great that day. In fact, it was cloudy and foggy all day, and even rained a bit in the late afternoon. But I did manage to see some very pretty scenery on this hike. I believe my favorite spot was San-no-ike (三ノ池, Lake #3), one of 5 greenish-blue crater lakes in the area.

San-no-ike, one of Mt. Ontake-san's 5 crater lakes
San-no-ike (三ノ池), one of Mt. Ontake-san's 5 crater lakes

According to Wikipedia, Ni-no-ike (二ノ池, Lake #2), elev. 2905m, one of the other 5 crater lakes & photos of which are in my Flickr album below, is the highest mountain lake in Japan. And I had a nice break at the Go-no-ike-goya (五ノ池小屋, Lake #5 mountain hut) where I enjoyed a very cool & refreshing Coca-Cola.

Nigorigo Onsen (濁河温泉)


One of the most delightful parts of this hike was that at the end of the course, there was a hot spring waiting for me. I stayed in a very delightful place called Asahi-so, a minshuku in Nigorigo Onsen (濁河温泉) right near the end of the hiking course that was adorned with colorful cosmos flowers (コスモス) (see pic in my photo album below) and had a very nice rotemburo (露天風呂, open air bath) to relax in (too bad I was alone).  smiley

Rotemburo @ Asahi-so minshuku
Rotemburo @ Asahi-so minshuku


It seems the prices have gone up in the 10 years since I stayed there, but the overnight stay, including dinner and breakfast, only set me back ¥6150, cheaper than what it costs in most mountain huts. Perhaps the lucky gaijin got a discount.  smiley

Nigorigo Onsen
(濁河温泉) is a very beautifully forested area and a natural habitat to a number of birds, including robins, warblers, and flycatchers. It prides itself on very little light pollution, so is a popular area for stargazing and a number of the lodges in the area even have telescopes on their rooftops.

But by far my favorite spot in Nigorigo Onsen
(濁 河温泉) was the nearby spectacular Sennin Falls (仙人滝) on the upper Nigorigo River (濁河川上流), which is lit up at nighttime. As I recall, this was the first time for me to ever experience such a nighttime light-up of a waterfall in Japan.

Nigorigo River
Upper Nigorigo River (濁河川上流)


My Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) Pics


My Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) photos are hosted at Flickr, but you can view them sequentially in the slideshow player below. I hope they give you a sense of the exciting experience of what it was like to actually be there. Enjoy !


Click above to view a slideshow of my Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) pics, 
taken Aug. 9-10, 2001.
    (View all pics at a glance here.)


My Google Map of Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山)


In Oct. 2009 I created the customized map below, as I thought it'd be cool to see all of Japan's 25 highest mountains at a glance.

(zoom out to see all 25 highest mountains)

View 25 Highest Mountains in Japan in a larger map
Note: The highest of the Ontake-san peaks is called Ken-ga-mine (剣ヶ峰).


Route Description, Maps & Elevation Profiles
of Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山)  


Interestingly, the hiking trail up from Ta-no-hara (田の原) has numbered stations, similar to Mt. Fuji: 7th Station (nanagome, 七合目), 8th Station (hachigome, 八合目), etc. (see route map below). From the Ta-no-hara (田の原) trailhead to the Mt. Ontake (御嶽山) summit (also called Ken-ga-mine, 剣ヶ峰), it took me a little less than 3 hours. About 20 minutes from the top, you'll pass the Otaki-chojo-goya (王滝頂上小屋) mountain hut, a pic of which is in my photo album.

To be honest, the summit of Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) was a bit too commercialized for me, reminding me a bit of the entire "city" one finds at the top of Mt. Fuji. In addition to the two mountain huts, Ontake Chojo-sanso (御嶽頂上山荘) & Ken-ga-mine Asahi-kan (剣ヶ峰旭館), which together sleep over 200, along with a souvenir shop & what seemed like an uncountable number of shrines and temples at the summit, it was difficult to catch that "back-to-nature" feeling.  smiley face



Note: The route above shows the first half of my hiking course
from Ta-no-hara (田の原) up to the summit of Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山).




Note: The route above shows the second half of my hiking course
from the summit of Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) down to Nigorigo Onsen (濁河温泉). 



Access


Despite its remote & isolated location to the west of the Central Japan Alps (see Google map above), Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) is still easily accessible from Tokyo, and there are a number of ways to approach the peak, including from Nigorigo Onsen (濁河温泉) or via the Ontake Ropeway (御岳ロープウェイ), which operates from July thru early November.

Alternatively, I chose to take the bus from Kiso-Fukushima Station (木曽福島駅) to the Ta-no-hara (田の原) trailhead, which takes about an hour and 15 minutes and will set you back ¥1500. There are 3 buses a day (in each direction) every day from mid-July thru the end of August, and weekend/holiday service only from the beginning of Sept. thru mid-October. During the summer & fall seasons, the bus timetables (in Japanese) are posted on the Otaki Village website. [Google Translate is a fairly accurate resource for translating Japanese webpages into English (and vice versa).]

From Shinjuku Station, you can take JR East's Azusa or Super Azusa limited express trains on the Chuo Line (that depart about every half-hour), which will take you to Shiojiri Station (塩尻駅) in 2 1/2 to 3 hours (timetable). From there, you can transfer to the Chuo Main Line (run by JR Central) for Kiso-Fukushima Station (木曽福島駅) on limited express trains which'll take about an additional 30 minutes. In Aug. 2001, these 2 trains dented my pocketbook by ¥7660.

For more train scheduling/fare info, you can call JR East in English @ 050-2016-1603 (+81-50-2016-1603 from overseas). They are open 10:00 to 18:00 everyday, except during the year-end/new year holidays.


Please stop by again soon



In summary, climbing Mt. Ontake (御嶽山) was a short, yet scenic & enjoyable hiking trip, especially with that hot spring waiting for me at the end of the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 5 crater lakes (5つの火口湖), colored in various shades of blue & green. I was also touched by the very quaint & scenic hot spring town of Nigorigo Onsen (濁河温泉), which I wouldn't mind returning back to again someday. 

Please stop by again soon, as in the future I intend to update this page on climbing Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山) with more details as they become available. In the meantime, you may wish to check out the record of my Mt. Ontake (御嶽山) schedule and expenses.

I also hope you have a few extra minutes to check out my webpages on the other highest mountains in Japan, as well as the rest of my website.

Thanks so much for visiting, and if you have any questions for me, by all means please give me a shout by clicking on the "Contact Me" link. I would also love to hear your personal story if you've already climbed Mt. Ontake-san (御嶽山). You can share your story here. Best wishes !!  

Additional links:
Mt. Ontake-san summit 6-day weather forecast
Mt. Ontake-san topo map (from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan)
Mt. Ontake-san route map (1:50,000 hiking map part of the Yama-to-kogen Chizu series published by Shobunsha)


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Gary J. Wolff


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